Alex Katz - Evening & Day Editions London Wednesday, January 18, 2023 | Phillips
  • “I also love what a simple black dress says about the woman who wears it”
    —Calvin Klein
    The black dress has been a recurring theme in Alex Katz’s work throughout his career. Its appearance as a motif in the artist’s work can be traced back to one of his most iconic early paintings, The Black Dress (1960), which depicts six different perspectives of Katz’s wife, Ada, wearing a classic black shift dress. Decades later, Katz revisited the theme again, depicting women clad in this timeless outfit in a series of paintings executed on door panels. Based on these compositions, the artist then created a series of nine life-sized screenprints in 2015, simply titled Black Dress. Such a trajectory of development emphasises the deeply entwined nature of Katz’s painting and printmaking practices.


    Alex Katz, The Black Dress, 1960. Image: Scala, Florence/bpk, Bildagentur fuer Kunst, Kultur und Geschichte, Berlin, Artwork: © Alex Katz / DACS, London / VAGA, New York

    Black Dress (2015) features nine of Katz’s female friends: Cecily, Oona, Sharon, Ruth, Yvonne, Yi, Carmen, Ulla, and Christy, who is depicted here. These women often modelled for the artist and, ahead of this project, Katz simply instructed them to wear black high heels and their own variations of a black dress. All the women were then depicted leaning in a near-identical pose against a yellow background. The duplicated poses and uniform outfits evoke a timeless quality, recalling the 1920’s fashion salons of Coco Chanel, who has long been credited as the inventor of the LBD or Little Black Dress.


    At first glance, the Black Dress series appears to be highly repetitive as each woman relaxes against the side of the image, with her shoulder touching the edge, her left arm resting across her waist and her right forearm bent into the air. Initially, one panel is only distinguished from the next by hair colour, but nuances quickly become apparent in the different variations of their clothing: the length of the dress, the style of sleeve and the cut of the neckline are subtle but nonetheless telling of the individual personas Katz seeks to capture. In her portrait, Ulla appears to be the epitome of sophistication. Depicted in a sleek, sleeveless dress with a boat neckline, Ulla chose to pair her outfit with pointed court shoes. Oona looks equally polished but has instead opted for a scooped neckline on her sleeveless dress, which she wore with square-toed patent heels for her portrait. And Christy, pairs a more conservative capped-sleeve dress and rounded neckline with patent leather pumps. By rendering Ulla, Oona and Christy in the same poses as the rest of the women in this series, Katz invites us to explore how even the smallest differentiations in appearance influence our perceptions of people.


    A firm believer in the power of clothing to convey personality, Calvin Klein wrote the catalogue foreword for an exhibition of Katz’s Black Dress screenprints. Praising Katz’s "strong colour fields and clean lines", Klein also stated that he loved "what a simple black dress says about the woman who wears it." Against flat planes of colour with no individualised body language, Katz’s screenprints visually reiterate Klein’s point. The personalities of each of the artist’s friends shine through in their respective portraits via the stylistic variations of their black dresses.


Christy, from Black Dress

Screenprint in colours, on wove paper, the full sheet.
S. 203.5 x 76.5 cm (80 1/8 x 30 1/8 in.)
Signed and numbered 4/35 in pencil, published by Lococo Fine Art, St. Louis, Missouri (with their inkstamp on the reverse), unframed.

Full Cataloguing

£10,000 - 15,000 

Sold for £15,120

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Evening & Day Editions

London Auction 18 - 19 January 2023